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Is ABC’s new series ‘Designated Survivor’ based on real government policy?

In a word: Yes.

Wednesday (Sept. 21) marks the long-awaited return to television by Kiefer Sutherland. In ABC’s highly buzzed about new series, Sutherland plays U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Tom Kirkman. Tapped to be the designated survivor while the president delivers his State of the Union address, he’s soon thrust into the role of commander in chief after a terrorist attack on the Capitol.

After viewing the trailer for the series, many have wondered what a designated survivor is and if this was a concept created by EP David Guggenheim. It is, in fact, a real thing.

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Started in 1981 amidst rising Cold War fears, the United States began the practice with the goal of ensuring the continuity of government was in place if a devastating attack took out the president, vice president and other top officials.

There are three pieces of criteria one needs to fill in order to be chosen as a designated survivor (or designated successor) to the president. The Cabinet member needs to be a natural born citizen, they must be over 35 years of age and they need to be a United States resident for at least 14 years.

Notable names who have acted as designated survivors throughout the years include 1999’s U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo, Vice President Dick Cheney  — just 19 days after Sept. 11, 2001 — and Attorney General Eric Holder in 2009.

“Designated Survivor” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.